We celebrate the seasonal fruits fish and fine foods
Dubai is slowly but surely developing a taste for locally grown produce, although a great deal of the food we eat still has to be imported from Europe and beyond. Likewise, the city’s culinary community is dominated by expatriates, so it’s only natural that chefs’ menus are influenced by their home countries and the produce available during the seasons they’re used to. At the tail-end of winter, February is the last chance to enjoy some truly delicious winter dishes before the joys of spring set in. We speak to some of the city’s top chefs to find out what they’ll be serving this month.
Blood orange Originating from China, blood oranges now primarily grow in Italy (tarocco) and Spain (sanguinello) and are ripe for the picking in February. They differ from oranges in their deep red colour, tougher skin and sweeter taste. While they’re prevalent in Mediterranean cuisine, particularly in salads, they have since become popular as an accompaniment to seafood dishes and dessert.
‘Blood oranges are a great change of pace from regular oranges because of their bright maroon colour and unique flavour, which has an almost raspberry-like quality,’ says Liz Stevenson, pastry chef at The Ivy Dubai. ‘During January and February, we source them from Sicily when they are at their ripest.’ Liz explains that the high acidity of the fruit complements creamy desserts, while for a dairy-free dessert the juice makes a lovely jelly.
Richard Sandoval, the man behind Toro Toro at Grosvenor House, the latest Latin American gem to drop into Dubai, uses the bitterness of blood oranges in contrast to sweet, crispy calamari, a dish that also features inventive chilli cabbage (cabbage being another European vegetable currently in season). Tip ‘A blood-orange sorbet or granita also works as a palate-cleanser following a main course. For a savoury dish, try pairing the oranges with pigeon,’ says Liz.
Cauliflower Cauliflower is one of the most important winter vegetables in Indian agriculture, with the country producing 4.7 million metric tonnes per year. ‘Cauliflower was developed and brought to India from Europe during the early 19th century,’ explains Chef Ankur Chakraborty from Zafran. ‘It has since been an integral part of Indian food. Cauliflower is used extensively in all regions of India in curries such as gobi dahi ki tari, stir fries (aloo gobi), roasts (tandoori gobi), fritters (gobi pakora) or minced (gunchow keema).’
Ankur believes cauliflower goes particularly well with potatoes and green peas. ‘In Delhi, where I’m from, during winter it is traditional to have cauliflower pakoras (fritters) with hot chai [tea].’
Other than stock ingredients such as potatoes and green peas, cauliflower goes very well with a lot of Indian spices, such as ajwain (carom seeds), cumin, dried red chillies, cardamom and mustard seeds. As Ankur explains, these spices blend well with cauliflower, ‘when they would otherwise clash with one another’. Yet cauliflower’s prevalence in Indian cooking is now under threat from the more fashionable broccoli, which, according to Ankur, is being experimented with by India’s ‘new-age’ chefs. Aloo gobi, Dhs25, available at Zafran, Dubai Marina Mall (04 399 7357).
Sea bass Though meat is the name of the game at revamped Deira steakhouse Legends, it’s the sea bass and horseradish that caught our eye on the menu. Both are in season this February: the black sea bass season in the South Atlantic closes on February 14, whereas it can be fished in European waters until May. This makes the pan-fried fillet of sea bass with sweet mustard, horseradish potato purée and cucumber, drizzled with its own jus, the perfect February food.
‘Sea bass is a hunting fish, so the meat is firm and the taste is delicate,’ explains Chef Max at Legends. ‘It’s definitely one of my preferred fish varieties.’ Max uses the horseradish to add a little extra kick to the dish. ‘The horseradish has a unique taste and quite a strong character. When it’s mixed with the mashed potato it complements the fish and enhances the taste.’ Sea bass also goes wonderfully with citrus flavours, saffron, rosemary, and walnut, though Max says he also likes to use Mediterranean flavours, such as sun-dried tomato, basil and olive oil.
Aside from its obvious pairing with beef, horseradish is the perfect accompaniment for oysters, another seasonal option this February. Incidentally, they’re being served as part of At.mosphere Lounge’s Valentine’s promotion; prices start at Dhs 2,200 per couple. Pan-fried sea bass with sweet mustard, horseradish potato puree and cucumber, Dhs115, available at Legends, Dubai Creek Golf Club, Deira (04 295 6000). Oysters available on the Valentine’s menu at At.mosphere Lounge, Burj Khalifa (04 888 3828).
Venison Venison is a flavoursome, lean meat taken from deer (red, fallow or roe), which has become increasingly popular thanks to the exploits of chefs Alan Murchison and Heston Blumenthal (the latter cooked a Christmas dinner featuring venison and dormouse), as well as an increasing appetite for Northern European food. Table 9 chef Nick Alvis is currently serving venison with celeriac polenta and blackberries, using saddle of wild roe deer from Holland. ‘The saddle is the best part of the deer,’ explains Nick. ‘Roe deer is the perfect size, giving us two nice-sized loins with minimal waste.’ So what’s the attraction of venison? ‘When in season, venison is incomparable to anything else,’ enthuses Nick. ‘Wild roe deer feed from leaves, shoots and berries, so the meat has a unique flavour. When it arrives we hang it for a further seven days, which matures and darkens the meat for a more concentrated flavour. After that we remove the loins from the bone and vacuum-pack the meat in olive oil, rosemary and juniper. We roast the bones and make a stock for the base of our sauce. The real beauty of cooking venison is you don’t have to do much – the flavour is already there and it takes minimal cooking.’
The difficulty, however, is getting the venison here in the first place – Nick has to place an order two weeks before the delivery, which means the total time before it reaches the plate is 21 days. ‘That’s a difficulty we’re prepared for,’ says Nick. ‘The problem is when our suppliers tell us the venison is not on the shipment. I don’t think many chefs use it over here so there’s no back-up!’
Venison goes well with berries and herbs (‘because of the natural connection,’ explains Nick), as well as bitter chocolate (‘it complements the richness of the meat’). As for the venison dish served at Table 9, Nick says it is more to do with consumption, rather than presentation. ‘The meat is complemented by the tartness of the berries and the bitterness of the cocoa pods. The crispy, earthy celeriac polenta finishes it off nicely.’
Tip ‘Let venison age before you prepare it, and don’t cook it too much – no more than medium rare. And salt… always add salt!’ says Nick.
Venison, celeriac polenta, blackberries and grue de cacao, Dhs100, available at Table 9, Hilton Dubai Creek, Deira (04 227 1111).